Among the nearly 300,000 attendees of the “March for Israel” on Washington’s National Mall on Nov. 14 were 12,000 Jewish day-school students from across the United States.
“A lot of them came totally en masse. We had complete high schools that would turn over their program and bring all their students,” Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, told JNS. “You would have expected this to be something that those with easy road access were going to be there. People came from everywhere.”
Bernstein told JNS that Jewish students had come from as far as California and Canada to support Israel at the rally, which organizers said was the largest pro-Israel gathering in American history.
The event was put together in a matter of days, and Jewish day schools quickly made arrangements to bring their students when they learned about the event, he said.
The march largely struck a positive note of support for Israel, but Bernstein said one of the greatest challenges for Jewish day schools has been dealing with the horrors of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.
“Kids walked into school after Simchat Torah with whatever knowledge of the news they had,” he said. “They were traumatized, as were their teachers and other faculty, and they’ve been dealing with it ever since.”
Additionally, Jewish day schools have had a “very substantial inflow of Israeli families and Israeli students looking to enroll in Jewish day schools,” he said. “Many of those kids have very personal and direct trauma to deal with.”
The most important thing for Jewish day schools and their communities to do in order to get through the trauma is to come together as communities, according to Bernstein.
“One of the things we’ve learned about Jewish day schools is how strong their communities are and how they stick together in the most difficult times,” he said.
‘Security threats are only going to go up’
Jewish institutions of learning also face rising antisemitism, including potential security threats.
The Biden administration and members of Congress have proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in additional spending for the Non-Profit Security Grant Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency and supports security measures at synagogues, day schools and other vulnerable locations.
So far, none of that funding has passed through the legislature.
Bernstein said that news from Europe appears to foretell a more difficult security environment for Jewish institutions in the future. “The fear in the community is that security threats are only going to go up,” he said.
“What we know from our colleagues and communities in Europe is for years they have been forced to have higher levels of security for all of their schools and other community institutions,” he said. “We’re very fortunate that in America we’ve had relative freedom for such a long time with, thank God, relatively fewer incidents. But I think our expectation is that what Jewish communities have experienced elsewhere is going to be more part of our future.”